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Thousands Pay Tribute to Lady Bird Johnson

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Thousands Pay Tribute to Lady Bird Johnson


Thousands Pay Tribute to Lady Bird Johnson

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Lady Bird Johnson was remembered today in Austin, Texas. Mrs. Johnson, the wife of former President Lyndon Baines Johnson, died of natural causes Wednesday at her home in the Texas capital. She was 94 years old.

NPR's Cokie Roberts attended Mrs. Johnson's private funeral this afternoon and joins us now.

Cokie, it appeared to be an extraordinary gathering there.

COKIE ROBERTS: Indeed, it was here at the River Bend Church outside of Austin. Representatives of family members of every administration from John F. Kennedy's to the current are there - were here.

Caroline Kennedy and her husband, Trisha Nixon Cox was here, and Susan Ford Bales, both President and Mrs. Carter, Nancy Reagan - looking very frail - Barbara Bush, and Senator Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and Laura Bush, the current first lady, all gathering to honor this woman who had been first lady, before any of them were, who had been an older woman when they were children. And then, of course, Texans galore: current and former members of the Texas delegation, the Speaker Jim Wright among them, and many, many members of the Johnson's family, including 50 Secret Service agents who had served Mrs. Johnson.

This was a woman who was so devoted to her friends, family and staff that they loved her throughout the years and showed up for her in her death.

ELLIOTT: There were so many facets of Mrs. Johnson's life to talk about. What did the speakers talk about today at her funeral?

ROBERTS: Well, they talked about her graciousness and her love of nature, and the rain came down, sort of, emphasizing nature's role here, and now it's sunny and beautiful as people leave the church.

But Bill Moyers, of course, was Johnson's press secretary, talked about her special courage, how brave it was for her to go out on that Lady Bird's special with people spitting and shouting at her in the South in 1964. And Tom Johnson, who was the president's chief of staff after his presidency, talking about her courage and her willingness to release the White House tapes, without having any idea what was on them of her husband's phone conversations.

And Harry Middleton, who was the head of the Johnson Library for so many years, talking about her sense of humor, and her grandchildren telling wonderful personal stories because she was very involved in their lives and about their own children's relationship with her - and then, of course, Lynda Johnson Robb and Luci Baines Johnson talking about her love. And they were all quite eloquent. It was really a remarkable ceremony.

ELLIOTT: There have been commemorations now for days in Austin. I understand Texans have really turned out to say goodbye to Lady Bird Johnson.

ROBERTS: Indeed. Thousands showed up. She was laid to rest over the last day at the Johnson Library; her coffin there under a brocade shroud. They filed in all night long. Her - granddaughter Lucinda Robb, a four-year-old, tells the story of being there last night after midnight and seeing families coming in with little children still coming in to say goodbye to her grandmother. And the University of Texas marching band showed up to say goodbye at the end of the ceremony today, playing the "Eyes of Texas Are Upon You" and with many members of the congregation, including the clergy, holding up their two fingers for the Texas Hook' em sign.

ELLIOTT: Hook 'em Horns, yeah.

ROBERTS: Hook 'em Horns.

ELLIOTT: And Cokie, she'll be buried tomorrow there?

ROBERTS: In a private ceremony at the Johnson ranch, along the Pedernales River as there will be a cortege of public of seeing her go all the way from here to there.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Cokie Roberts. Thank you so much.

ROBERTS: Thank you.

ELLIOTT: We will close our segment of the program now tonight with words from one of the eulogists, Bill Moyers, who was President Johnson's press secretary.

Mr. BILL MOYERS (Former President Johnson's Press Secretary): Early in the White House, a well-meaning editor came up from Texas and said, you poor thing, having to follow Jackie Kennedy. Mrs. Johnson's mouth dropped open, and she said, oh, no, don't pity me. Grieve for Mrs. Kennedy. She lost her husband. I still have my Lyndon.

She aimed for the consolation and comfort of others. It was not only her talent in negotiating a Civil War that weighs in his nature. It was not just the way she remained unconscricted(ph) by the factions in the which family, friends and advisers, and inevitably divide around the powerful figure. She kept open all the roads to reconciliation.

Like her beloved flowers in the field, she was a woman of many hues - a strong manager, a canny investor, a shrew judge of people - friend and foe - and she never confused the two. Deliberate in coming to judgment, she was sure in conclusion.

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